Furore in Parliament over Antony’s ‘clean chit’ to Pak on LoC killings
New Delhi, August 7
The storm raged over Antony’s statement made in Parliament yesterday where he blamed “terrorists in Pakistani Army uniforms” for the attack, whereas the Indian Army took a diversely opposite stand implicating Pakistani Army directly for the incident.
While the BJP upped the ante on the issue, the government and the Congress ruled out any apology on Antony’s part, saying his statement was “made on the basis of facts provided by the Indian Army”.
An unrelenting BJP, however, kept insisting on a clarification over how such a serious contradiction could happen. “The Defence Minister’s statement is directly contradictory to that of the Indian Army. He has given a clean chit to Pakistan. He has misled the nation. Let him apologise to the country,” Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said during Zero Hour. PM Manmohan Singh was present in the House at that time, but he remained silent even as the House saw two adjournments over Telangana formation and crimes against women in Bengal.
BJP’s Yashwant Sinha moved a motion for breach of privilege of the House against Antony for his “misleading statement”. The motion is under Speaker Meira Kumar’s consideration.
Uproarious scenes were also witnessed in the Rajya Sabha (which saw three adjournments) where Antony came to clarify his position after meeting the PM in Parliament House. Antony defended his statement saying he would offer further clarification once the Army Chief returned from Poonch.
“My statement was based on whatever information was available till then…Today, the Army Chief has gone to the area. Let him come back. If there are some other details, I will convey to you,” Antony told the Rajya Sabha.
With the BJP keeping the heat on the government, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid defended Antony saying, “He made a carefully drafted and a well thought out statement based on facts provided by the Army. I don’t think there was a contradiction in the two statements.”
The Congress also stood firmly behind Antony with spokesperson PC Chacko slamming the BJP for “politicising the matter”.
“Never has such an issue been politicised. We know who gave a clean chit to Pakistan and when; who escorted dreaded terrorists and surrendered them to Pakistan,” Chacko said. There was no contradiction in the statements of Antony and the Army, he insisted.
The Defence Minister got his information from the Army and a simple reading of his statement would reveal that he was not giving a clean chit to Pakistan, said the Congress. “Even when you name terrorists in Pakistani uniforms, you are naming Pakistan,” Chacko said, going on to add that India had a policy of friendly relations with neighbours, but it will not be found wanting when it came to national security and sovereignty.
New Delhi, August 7
When Antony got up to speak in the Lok Sabha around 3 pm yesterday, he said: “The ambush was carried out by approximately 20 heavily armed terrorists along with persons dressed in Pakistan Army uniform.”
Around 55 minutes later (at 3.55 pm), the Army PRO at Jammu released a statement through email. It said: “The ambush was carried out by approximately 20 heavily armed terrorists along with soldiers of the Pakistan Army.”
The Opposition led by the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitely blasted Antony for giving a clean chit to the Pakistan Army by saying there were “persons dressed in Pakistan Army uniform”. Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha Chief Anurag Thakur lead a group to protest against Antony yesterday night. He said: “It was the Pakistan Army. Why did Antony not say it so?”
Sources said the original draft was released by the Army PRO in Jammu.
Antony’s statement in the Lok Sabha was a collective effort after proper consultations involving the Ministry of External Affairs, the National Security Adviser and the Prime Minister’s Office.
“The language was added and was the outcome of a collective decision and was not made by Antony on his own,” sources said. The original draft for the Antony’s statement was prepared by the Director General of Military Operations and sent to Antony for his approval. Given the sensitivity of the matter, Antony consulted other wings of the government.
Within the Ministry of Defence (MoD), a fact-finding mission is underway to pinpoint how the contradictions emerged in the communiqué. After the contradictions emerged, the embarrassed Defence PRO at Jammu sent another email to the media at 6.56 pm withdrawing its previous press release and regretting for it. The Defence PRO had issued the press release based on information from the injured soldier and radio intercepts.
New Delhi/Islamabad/Jammu, August 7
Yesterday afternoon, Indian Army troops opened fire at Pakistani posts along the Line of Control (LoC) at Nowgam and Uri, sources confirmed. This was barely hours after news of five Indian soldiers having been killed had filtered through. The firing continued even as Defence Minister AK Antony was speaking in Parliament.
Reporting from Islamabad, Reuters said that two Pakistani soldiers possibly died. Indian agencies have picked over conversation, which indicate a similar number of deaths. The Indian firing prompted Pakistani DGMO Maj Gen Ashfaq Nadeem in Rawalpindi to speak to his counterpart Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia in New Delhi over hotline.
The Indian DGMO had not lodged a formal protest with his counterpart over the killings. “It was possibly to let the boys in the field respond to the firing as the way they are taught and trained to,” a top source confirmed.
Army sources today said its troops only retaliated to a ceasefire violation by Pakistan and ‘small arms’ were used. There was intermittent firing from across the LoC.
In Pakistan, the Inter Services Public Relation said: “A special hotline contact was established this morning between DGMOs of Pakistan and Indian army to discuss situation arising due to the Indian allegations. Pak Army lodged a strong protest for the LoC violation by Indian troops in Pandu sector (facing Uri) in which two Pakistani soldiers were seriously wounded”. Later reports said the soldiers had died. Pakistan DGMO, however, dismissed the reports of the death of five Indian soldiers, claiming no exchange of fire had occurred.
At Akhnoor, Army Chief General Bikram Singh met all formation commanders along the LoC and reviewed the situation. He suggested new measures to be enforced.
The Army Chief landed at Technical Airport in the morning and paid tributes to the martyrs. Draped in Tricolours, the caskets carrying bodies of the fallen heroes were flown to New Delhi in an Air India plane at 3.45 pm. The troopers killed in the attack have been identified as Naik Prem Nath Singh (35), a resident of Chapra (Bihar), Lance Naik Shambu Saran Ray (29) of Bhojpur (Bihar), Sepoy Vijay Kumar Ray (27) of Patna (Bihar), Sepoy Raghunandan Prasad (23) of Chapra (Bihar), and Naik Pundalik Mane Kerba (36) of Kolhapur (Maharashtra) of 14 Maratha Light Infantry.
The injured soldier has been identified as Sambhaji Kutti, a resident of Kolhapur, belonging to 14 Maratha Light Infantry. After paying tributes to the soldiers the Army Chief along with Lt Gen Sanjiv Chachra and Lt Gen DS Hooda took off for the Nagrota-based 16 Corps (White Knight Corps) headquarters from where they took off around 12.15 pm for the ambush site in Poonch. The chopper had to be grounded due to bad weather at Akhnoor-based Crossed Swords Division headquarters.
The Indian response